Asia Defense

Where Are America’s Warriors Coming From?

Recent Features

Asia Defense

Where Are America’s Warriors Coming From?

The United States military is mostly a middle-class force.

A new report is shedding some light on the composition of the United States Armed Forces by analyzing what sort of young Americans are heeding the nation’s call to arms.

In short, the American military is more or less a middle-class force: “The socioeconomic backgrounds (as measured by neighborhood affluence) of these men and women generally reflect the U.S. population’s distributions, although enlisted recruits are somewhat underrepresented in neighborhoods in the lowest and highest household income quintiles.”

Geographically speaking, the military attracts a proportionally larger percentage of recruits from southern states while youth of northeastern states are underrepresented (the West and Midwest are proportionally represented). Asian-American recruiting numbers lag behind; the number of enlisted Hispanics has grown, although not matching Hispanic overall population growth nationwide; and African-Americans are slightly over-represented, at 18.7 percent versus 15.5 percent of recruit-age youth.

The United States Congress has demanded an annual report on the composition of the armed forces since 1974, the year after conscription ended. This year’s report, entitled “Population Representation in the Military Services” and compiled by the Center for Naval Analyses, analyzes data compiled by the Defense Manpower and Data Center through fiscal year 2013.

In 1973, at the beginning of the all-volunteer military, 1.9 million service members were in the enlisted force. The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s led to a significant drop in force size; from fiscal year 1997 to fiscal year 2013, the enlisted force fluctuated between 1.1 and 1.2 million service members, according to the report.

The good news for the U.S. military is that today’s recruiting environment is excellent and all service branches met their recruiting goals in 2013. “For the last five years, the services have experienced extraordinary recruiting success,” the report notes. The reason for that is pretty straightforward: “Probably the most notable contributing factor has been the persistently high unemployment rate, particularly among young people. Although unemployment rates for all groups (16- to 19-year-old, 20- to 24-year old, and 16- to 24-year-old) improved in 2013, they are all still higher than at any time since the recession of 1982 to 1983.”

Consequently the analysis cautions that things may change with an improving economy — the jobless rate now is 5.8 percent, the lowest in six years. The report notes that  “youth influencers have not been as likely to recommend military service as they were in the 1980s and 1990s.”

The most interesting question that comes to mind after studying this report  is whether the country will suffer a manpower shortage in the future due to the declining health of America’s youth.

According to the report, among the 17- to 24-year-old youth population in the country, there were only an estimated 17 percent “qualified military available”(QMA), i.e. young people not enrolled in college and qualified to enlist without a waiver.

Medical and physical conditions were the most comment reason for disqualification, eliminating 22 percent of recruit-aged youths. That was closely followed by obesity, which disqualified 21 percent of youths. Various senior military officers have called attention to the obesity issue, announcing that it constitutes a national security issue that can threaten the country’s safety.